What is fungus-based carbon removal?

forest fungi

By Andrei Mihail

Fungus-based carbon removal refers to the process of using fungi to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. Fungi are well-known for their ability to break down organic matter and release nutrients into the soil. However, recent research has shown that some fungi can also store carbon in the soil by producing a substance called glomalin.

How does fungus-based carbon removal work?

Fungus-based carbon removal works by using certain types of fungi to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. These fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plants, in which they exchange nutrients and carbon. The fungi receive carbohydrates from the plant, and in return, they provide the plant with nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that they extract from the soil. As the fungi grow and expand their networks of hyphae, they create a complex web of interconnected filaments that can hold carbon in the soil.

Fungi also produce glomalin, a glycoprotein that helps to stabilize soil aggregates and prevent erosion. Glomalin is a highly stable form of carbon that can remain in the soil for decades or even centuries. By increasing the amount of glomalin in the soil, fungi can effectively sequester carbon and help to mitigate climate change.

Benefits of fungus-based carbon removal

Fungus-based carbon removal has several potential benefits:

  1. It is a natural and non-invasive way to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Unlike other carbon removal technologies, which rely on large-scale infrastructure and often involve significant environmental disruption, fungus-based carbon removal uses natural processes that are already present in the ecosystem.
  2. It can improve soil health. Fungi play a critical role in maintaining healthy soil ecosystems by breaking down organic matter and cycling nutrients. By increasing the amount of fungi in the soil, we can help to restore degraded soils and promote plant growth.
  3. It is a scalable solution. Fungi are found in ecosystems around the world, and many different types of fungi can be used for carbon removal. This means that the technology can be scaled up to meet the needs of different regions and ecosystems.

Case study: Funga

This innovative approach to climate mitigation is already being pioneered by various enterprises and attracting significant seed capital from investors. For example, Funga, a company that uses fungal microbiomes to create commercial credits, offers an innovative solution to the challenges of forest-based carbon offsetting schemes. By harnessing the power of fungi to accelerate plant growth and enhance carbon capture in forests, Funga is rewilding forests in a sustainable and impactful way.

Funga founder Dr Colin Averill has been studying mycorrhizal fungal networks for over 15 years and has shown that the reintroduction of wild soil microbial biodiversity can accelerate plant growth by an average of 64%.

Through the use of modern DNA sequencing and machine learning technology, Funga is able to put the right native, biodiverse communities of mycorrhizal fungi in the right places, to sink as much CO2 as possible. In doing so, Funga is restoring essential microbial biodiversity to soils, building back up microbial complexity and promoting biodiversity in forest ecosystems.

Microbiome restoration

Funga recently launched its first microbiome restoration project in Lexington, Georgia, in partnership with Conservation Resources, where it will create another 2,500 acres of forest microbiome projects within the loblolly pine footprint of the southern United States over the next 18 months. The company’s goal is to sequester at least three billion tons of carbon dioxide through rewilding forests by 2050.

Environmentally and economically

Funga’s approach is not only environmentally sound, but also economically viable. The company has just raised $4 million in a seed funding round led by Azolla Ventures, a venture capital firm that helps finance climate solutions. Funga will measure how much additional carbon dioxide is captured as a result of forest microbiome restoration and make this available to corporate buyers as part of their carbon removal portfolio.

By harnessing the power of fungi to support plant growth and enhance carbon capture, Funga is paving the way for more sustainable and impactful rewilding projects in the future.

Challenges of fungus-based carbon removal

While fungus-based carbon removal has many potential benefits, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed:

  • Lack of research: Fungus-based carbon removal is a relatively new field of research, and there is still much to learn about how it works and how effective it can be. More research is needed to determine the best types of fungi to use, how to optimize their growth, and how to scale up the technology.
  • Difficulties in implementation: Although the technology itself is simple, implementing fungus-based carbon removal on a large scale can be challenging. It requires changes to land management practices and may involve significant costs for landowners.
  • Uncertainties around carbon storage: While fungi can store carbon in the soil, it is still unclear how much carbon they can sequester and how long it will remain stored. More research is needed to determine the long-term effectiveness of fungus-based carbon removal.

Promising technology

Fungus-based carbon removal is a promising technology that has the potential to play a significant role in mitigating climate change. By using fungi to capture and store carbon in the soil, we can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil health. However, more research is needed to determine the best ways to implement and scale up the technology, and to understand ts long-term effectiveness. Companies like Funga are leading the way in this field by developing innovative solutions and attracting seed capital from investors. With further research and development, fungus-based carbon removal could become an important tool in the fight against climate change.

Andrei Mihail

Master’s student in Biodiversity and Global Change at University College London. Andrei has a deep love for nature, and writes to connect people all over the world with conservation and technology.


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